Best of Both Worlds: How to be a Private Practitioner in a Spa Environment

Having been a spa director in resort spas for many years and now starting my own practice as a massage therapist, I finally put my finger on it. It is that certain something that makes the schedule of one therapist fill up while other schedules don’t.

The busiest, most successful therapists act as private practitioners within a spa setting. They have mastered the art of having their cake (vegan, gluten-free of course) and eating it too.

There are many benefits to working in a spa environment:
– Learning multiple treatments
– Access to facilities and equipment
– Paid training
– Someone else does the laundry
– Someone else orders the inventory
– Support of a community
– Benefits like insurance, meals, vacation
– Schedule flexibility
– A beautiful environment
– Someone else worries about paying the rent, processing payments, etc.

Some would argue that the greatest benefit of working in a spa is someone else does the marketing and fills your appointment books. But here I disagree.

The most successful spa therapists I’ve worked with have had one thing in common. They operated as if it were their own practice. In other words, they took ownership.

Here are some tips for taking ownership and realizing the “Best of Both Worlds”.

Befriend the reservations and reception team. Learning not only the spa menu but the intricacies of protocols and their therapeutic value can be a daunting task. Front of house associates cherish time with therapists who will educate them in the finer points of the treatments. Invite them into an experience of spa. Treat them to complimentary services and I guarantee your time and efforts will come back ten fold in paid bookings and a friendly, mutually respectful relationship. They want guests to leave the spa happy and are far more likely to book a therapist they know and trust.

Outline a program for your clients. In a private practice it is essential that you keep learning and growing. Often, spa therapists assume their guests are on vacation and they will never see them again. Act as if they are a local and suggest a follow-up service, recommend exercises and home care. You will be amazed at how this builds rapport and relationship. Not only will they come back but they will tell their friends about you.

Be a public relations machine. PR activities are not just important in growing a private practice. When a new service is introduced, volunteer to comp your services for VIPs, media, the front of house team, etc. Always have business cards and even spa menus on you so that you can invite in people you meet in the community. Take on case studies and work with management to get your articles published. Offer to do chair massage and community education. Embody the philosophy of your spa and make sure everyone in the community associates the spa with you. You share the same brand.

Chase the business. Think back to when you were straight out of school. Chances are you made yourself available any time day or night, weekend or holidays to take appointments. Be mindful of balance in your life but be careful about being too rigid. If you can be flexible with your schedule, you will be the first phone call when the spa is busy and they need more therapists.

Attitude really is everything. When you are a private practitioner
you know every little detail of your operation. You stay positive
because you know you are well intentioned and trying your best.

Sadly, however, there is often an “us vs. them” mentality in
spas – therapists vs. management. Neither party is perfect but trust and
respect are critical. Everyone is interdependent and healthy
communication is vitally important. Stay away from the “moaners” in the
break room and even try and turn the conversation around if you can.
Would you just sit around complaining if it were your own practice? No,
you would set productive energy in motion.

See with the eyes of an entrepreneur. See opportunities and
make suggestions to management on everything – from promotions,
to more efficient systems, to tools to better care for the clients.
Management will appreciate your dedication.

One therapist I worked with at my last spa recently transferred properties and quickly became one of the top requested therapists at the new location. She and many other special therapists were my inspiration for this piece. Thank you for your beautiful spirits. Keep up the good work and will you please save me a slice of that cake?

Kristi Dickinson is an ASTECC Spa Leadership Instructor, private practitioner and spa consultant. She can be reached at

Anne Bramham